Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Oakland A's/Seibu Lions Series: Bert Campaneris

Bert "Campy" Campaneris was an Oakland A's legend, but his short time with the Seibu Lions ended with little fanfare.

Tenures: 1964-1976 with the Kansas City/Oakland A's, 1987-1988 with the Seibu Lions (First and Third Base Coach)

Statistics with the A's: 1795 games, 7895 PAs, .262/.314/.348 70 HRs, 529 RBIs, 566 SBs, 48.9 bWAR

The Cuban-born shortstop has so many interesting tidbits in his long Major League career that it's really hard to find a starting point. I will say that Bert Campaneris deserves plenty of recognition for his role in the Swingin' A's dynasty of the early 70s. His defense, leadoff ability and clutch hits seemed to always show up when it was needed.

In my opinion, he's the greatest shortstop in Oakland A's history and it's not very close. Maybe not the most dominant, but when it comes to longevity and the full body of work, no one compares.

Born in Pueblo Nuevo, Cuba during the reign of the US-backed, Fulgencio Batista's reign as President of Cuba, not much is known about Campaneris until he was signed as an amateur free agent by the Kansas City A's in 1961 for the measly sum of $500. His birth name was Dagoberto (Blanco) Campaneris, which he shortened to Bert. Initially he was signed as a catcher, but was then moved to the infield early in his minor league career.

He advanced quickly through the minor leagues and after impressing for the Birmingham Barons, he was called up to Kansas City in 1964 at the age of 22. In his first game, he put himself into the record books with one of the greatest debuts in Major League history. He became the second player in MLB history to hit two home runs in a debut, joining Bob Nieman who accomplished the same feat 13 years before. Yasmani Grandal, J.P. Arencibia and Mark Quinn have joined Campy with this feat since then.

With that debut, he wouldn't play in the minors for almost 20 years. He'd feature regularly for the hapless Kansas City A's, being one of the few bright spots for an awful second division team. Campaneris took home the AL Stolen Base crown from 1965-1968, 1970, and 1972. He would also lead the circuit in hits in 1968 during the A's first season in Oakland.

Defensively, the errors category wouldn't be very kind to him, but judging on the other data that are available, Campaneris had tremendous range and since he could get to more balls, more errors were the result.

Adding to how bad the A's were in Kansas City, to try and find creative ways to boost attendance, one of those ways was a special promotion where Bert Campaneris played all 9 positions. He'd even pitch ambidextrously when he was on the mound. This was one of the many gimmicks during Charlie Finley's reign as owner of the A's. This gimmick was honored by Will Ferrell during Spring Training last year for a promotion known as "Ferrell Takes the Field."

Will Ferrell met with Bert Campaneris during the 2015 Spring Training in Arizona. 
As the A's started to get comfortable in Oakland, Campaneris was part of a hungry championship core along with Reggie Jackson, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Vida Blue, Sal Bando and Joe Rudi. In 1970, Campaneris would put in a 20/40 season with a career high total of 22 homers to go along with 42 stolen bases. At the age of 28, this was a career year for Campy and surprisingly, he'd still do a solid job of continuing to play well into his 30s.

The A's would win the West in 1971 and Earl Weaver's Orioles would dispatch them in a sweep of the ALCS that year. This would be the last playoff series the A's would lose for four years.

In 1972, the A's would win the World Series and Campaneris would find himself in a bit of controversy during the ALCS against the Tigers. In game 2, he'd throw a bat at Tigers' pitcher, Lerrin LaGrow. He'd be suspended for the rest of the series, but the A's would win the series in one of the hottest contested playoff series that I can recall.

The A's would repeat in 1973 and along the way, Bert Campaneris would provide a big part in their playoff run. In game two, Campy would hit a "Rickey Henderson" home run (a leadoff home run) that would set the tone for their first win of the series and then in game 3, he would hit the first postseason walk-off home run in A's franchise history. He'd hit it off fellow Cuban-born pitcher,  Mike Cuellar, I chronicled the game here in what I called the 11th greatest win in Oakland A's history.

For the 1973 World Series, Campy would provide one of the two big home runs in the A's clinching Game 7. The other being from Reggie Jackson and his bat toss celebration that was known to seal it. The A's would defeat Yogi Berra's Mets in 7 games, clinching a back to back streak.

That wouldn't be it for this A's team as in 1974, they'd do it again. Campy would provide the last great season of his career, as he'd finish with a bWAR of 5.3. The A's would dominate the Walter Alston led Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1974 World Series and they cemented themselves as a dynasty. This was the last great team of the days before the end of the reserve clause in 1975.

Campy would play two more seasons with the A's and he would be granted free agency after the 1976 season, where he signed with the Texas Rangers. He was an All-Star for the Rangers, but was traded mid-way through his second season with them as the California Angels were the ones who came calling. He'd play three seasons in Anaheim, before playing a season in the Mexican League.

Billy Martin wanted him to return to the Big Leagues and play for the Yankees in 1983, which would be his last season as a professional baseball player.

He wanted to coach in the Major Leagues, but no one gave him a chance. He landed a few minor league jobs and the Seibu Lions offered him a job to coach defense and base running with them in 1987.

Campaneris was one of many coaches on the Seibu Lions in 1987
Coming off of a Japan Series title, the New Breed Lions were in full force and Bert Campaneris added a Japan Series championship to his resumé with the team winning it all the following season.

Campaneris saw legends from the golden age for a year including Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Kimiyasu Kudo, George Vukovich and Koji Akiyama. Kiyohara, Akiyama and Vukovich combined for 86 home runs in that season.

It wasn't all good for Campy in Japan though. The very next year, he left in the middle of the season because of the way he felt he was treated. There is an indication that he was the only foreign coach in NPB during the 1987 season.

In the video below, this shows the clinching game of the 1987 Japan Series, where Campaneris celebrated with the team.

In Robert Whiting's book You Gotta Have Wa, Whiting seemed to allude that Campaneris was either trying to do things his way, or he wanted the players to get more rest, since the Lions practiced harder than any other NPB team.

SFGate asked him about the coaching gigs he was offered, and Campy mentioned how the Seibu Lions won the whole thing when he was there, nothing more was said. This mystery will have to be answered by those involved.

I was fortunate enough to meet Campaneris last season at A's Spring Training, it was a real thrill for me with all the great history that he was apart of. Everyone who has met with Campy have said how nice a guy he is. He's now in his 70s and living in Scottsdale, Arizona. When I asked him about his time in Japan he said he "really enjoyed it."

Baseball Reference's database has found that the best comparisons to Campaneris include Christian Guzman, Dave Concepcion, Luis Aparacio, and Willie Randolph to name a few.

Even with what seemed to have happened with the Lions, it's an honor that Campy has donned the uniforms of both the A's and Lions.


Roger Repoz

Jim Tyrone

Esteban German

Hiram Bocachica


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